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Exhibition of real and re-imagined superheroes on view at Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana
Rio Yañez, Batman and Anzaldua (2014), print.

SAN JOSE, CA.- MACLA/ Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana opens its 2014-15 season with UNMASKED, an exhibition about real and re-imagined superheroes.

Diversity has come to comic books. As women and minority consumption of comic books and graphic novels has risen, so has the push to diversify its representation of superheroes: an African-American Captain America, a female Thor, and a Puerto Rican Spider-Man named Miles Morales, to name a few re- workings of the superhero stories we know so well. The Latino artists featured in Unmasked explore cultural and social issues of identity and otherness through the visual language of comic books, science fiction and superheroes; they also incorporate the heroic story of and expand on the mythology of the superhero.

Superheroes have been a large part of the American literary, graphic, and pop culture landscape since the early 20th century; their history can be traced back to epic tales of good versus evil and superhuman figures such as Achilles and Zeus. The many heroic figures in American pop culture range from Paul Bunyan, a larger-than-life lumberjack with superhuman qualities, to Mose the Fireman, the toughest firefighter in all of New York City. Superheroes capture the imagination because they are aspirational and exhibit human vulnerabilities. They possess extraordinary talents or superhuman powers, but just as frequently they display their humanity: a refined sense of justice and equality, inventiveness, and courage, all the while concealing their identity. As curator Joey Reyes says, “to unmask is to reveal. The artists in this exhibition reveal a malleable vision of the superhero as icon, one that embodies the qualities of hard work and sacrifice, humor and satire, vulnerability, and the ability to overcome adversity.”

Carlos Donjuan brings the surreal with his playful and unusual paintings of masked figures, hybrid animal people, pyramid, and blob creatures which play with the absurdity of the term “alien” when referencing the undocumented. Donjuan has created a hybrid visual language composed of art historical references, graffiti, religious iconography, and touches on issues of immigration, politics, and undocumented youth movements. The figures in his paintings are often young Latino youth, some undocumented, with their faces concealed behind shapes and patterns of color. Donjuan conceals through masking and creates hybrid creatures that hide in plain sight while fighting for visibility. These layered portraits illustrate the journey these superheroes have embarked on in the search of a better life.

Hector Hernandez’ gorgeously minimal and provocative Hyperbeast series reduces the idea of superheroes into a language of form, color, and geometry to transcend notions of identity, race, and gender. Hernandez also reminds us that even superheroes are vulnerable. Otherworldly figures are concealed, gender obscured, consumed by pieces of cloth, and vulnerable to the exterior world, but remain visions of beauty in the movement of highly saturated colors from the materials that adorn them.

Dulce Pinzón’s award-winning photography series, The Real Story of the Superheroes , features real-life Latino immigrants working the toughest jobs in New York City. Pinzón has captured the city’s Latino immigrant working class in their daily work environment but dressed as well-known American and Mexican superheroes: window washer Bernabe Mendez as Spiderman, nanny Minerva Valencia as Catwoman, construction worker Luis Hernandez as The Thing. We are provided with the name of their hometown and the monthly amount of money they send to their families back home. As Pinzón says in her artistic statement, "the principal objective of this series is to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women [who] somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper." This series asks us to re-examine our definition of hero and shows us that immigrants are the real superheroes.

Bay Area-based artist Rio Yañez wittily teams up famous American superheroes with heroes of Chicanismo. In Yañez's re-envisioning of the superduo he seamlessly pairs the likes of Batman with Chicano performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena or Chicana literary author Gloria Anzaldua in a print series that envisions creative collaborations that fight injustice and comment on social issues. Yañez mixes real and fictional heroic stories and combines pop culture references with Chicano history and icons to explore alternative mythologies. In Dark Harvest Knight, the Knight is transported from the streets of Gotham to the fields of America to bring justice to farm workers. In Selena y Los Dinos, the title of Selena’s first album, Yañez pairs the legendary Tejana performer with dinosaurs, both larger than life, proclaiming their superhuman ability to transcend time and space and to be forever embedded within our consciousness.

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Exhibition of real and re-imagined superheroes on view at Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana

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